New Wineskins and New Melodies

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus tells his disciples that “No one tears a piece from a new cloak to patch an old one” and “no one pours new wine into old wineskins.”

Whenever I hear this passage, I think a prayer by Ed Hays, titled A Psalm of New Wine Skins. I have sometimes offered it to retreatants for their prayer and I offer it to you this morning.

Comfortable and well-worn are my daily paths
whose edges have grown gray with constant use.

My daily speech is a collection of old words
worn down at the heels by repeated use.
My language and deeds, addicted to habit,
prefer the taste of old wine, the feel of weathered skin.

Come and awaken me, Spirit of the new.
Come and refresh me, Creator of green life.
Come and inspire me, Risen Son,
you who make all things new:
I am too young to be dead, to be stagnant in spirit.

I fear,
High are the walls that guard the old,
the tried and secure ways of yesterday
that protect me from the dreaded plague,
the feared heresy of change.
For all change is a danger to the trusted order,
the threadbare traditions that are maintained
by the narrow ruts of rituals.

Yet how can an everlasting new covenant
retain its freshness and vitality
without injections of the new,
the daring and the untried?

My desire is,
Come, O you who are ever-new,
wrap my heart in new skin,
ever flexible to be reformed by your Spirit.
Set my feet to fresh paths this day:
inspire me to speak original and life-giving words and to
creatively give shape to the new.

Come and teach me how to dance with delight
whenever you send a new melody my way.



Co-Creator Day

Today the United States celebrates Labor Day, a day on which we celebrate the achievements of American workers. The Department of Labor calls this a day to “pay tribute… to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.”

In Catholic terms, recognizing God’s role as the primary creator of all we have, we more accurately pay tribute to workers as “co-creators” with God.

A central theme in Catholic thought is work as participation in the creative action of God – in the work of creation itself, and therefore as a means of sanctification. From a Catholic perspective, work serves to facilitate and encourage human person in becoming “fully human” and therefore receptive to the divine, playing a tremendously important part in bringing workers to the realization of the fullness of their existence and potential as a human person.

This sense of work as participation in the act of creation, as a means for realizing our full potential as humans comes from our creation in the image of God and the dignity of the human person. The purpose of work is to create, and the purpose of creation is to actualize our potential as beings created in the image of God. Our divine nature is displayed in work.

It is good to remind ourselves that work as participation in the act of creation is not dependent on how a particular type of work is regarded from a secular standpoint. Some work is more glamorous or seems more important than other work. Some work looks to us like mere drudgery. But it is not the nature of the particular job that gives work its dignity. Brother Lawrence, in the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God, observes that God is as present in the kitchen as in the cathedral.

What Do We Notice (Or Not)

This morning’s reflection in Give Us This Day, was titled Attentive and Grateful.  in It, the author, C. Vanessa White, explained an exercise she uses to help her students focus on God’s grace.  Reminiscent of the moonwalking bear awareness test, she asks them to look around the classroom and focus on one particular color (e.g., items that are red).  She then asks them to close their eyes and quietly recall those red items.  With their eyes still closed, she asks them to name all the blue items they saw.  Not surprisingly, because of their focus on red, they missed the blue.

Where do we put our attention?  What do we notice?  White writes that “we focus on the negative and tend to notice all that is going wrong in our world, and we miss God’s grace and presence before us.  What we focus on is what we give power to! ”

Many of us engage in a daily Examen, which encourages us to take time each day to reflect on where we noticed God’s grace.  Whether through the Examen or otherwise, it is good to be reminded that “what we focus on is what we give power to.”

The Shephards Have Been Pasturing Themselves

With all the news about Cardinal McCarrick and the Pittsburgh grand jury report, the harsh criticism in today’s first Mass reading from Ezekiel seems perfectly directed against Church officials:

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick not bind the injured [nor we might add – protect the children]… Thus says the Lord God:  I am coming against these shepherds.  I will… put a stop to their shepherding so that they may no longer pasture themselves.

The time for simple apologies and promises to do better have long past.

Convening a panel of bishops is not an adequate response.

Nor is it an answer to say that the laity should pray and fast in reparation, as I have heard a number of people suggest.  I’d be happy to hear that the bishops are all fasting and praying in reparation for their sins.  But all I have heard is suggestions that the laity do so.  Don’t get me wrong.  I already pray for the church and its victims every day.  But the reparation has to be on the part of those who committed the wrongdoing.

Only a real structural change that removes the conditions that invite and allow the shepherds to pasture themselves rather than act for the good of God’s people will restore the credibility of the Church.



Coming Up This Fall

Can it really be that summer is almost over!  In between walks, visits to the farmers market, and a few pottery classes,  I’ve been spending time getting ready for a busy fall.  Here are some of the places I’ll be; depending on where you are, perhaps you can join us!

September 28-30 I’ll be giving a preached Ignatian Retreat at Bellarmine Jesuit Retreat House in Barrington Illinois.  (Registration information here.)

Saturday October 6 will find me giving a Day of Retreat and Reflection on the Lord’s Prayer at First Presbyterian Church of Neenah.  I’ll also be preaching at both services the following day.  If you live anywhere in the Fox Cities area of Wisconsin, you know this is a great community of folks.

October 11-14 I’ll be giving a preached Ignatian Retreat at my home away from home, the Jesuit Retreat House in Oshkosh.  That one has had a waitlist for quite some time, but perhaps some of you are already signed up.

October 18-21 I’ll be giving at Christ the King Retreat House in Buffalo, MN, giving an Ignatian Women’s Silent Retreat, sponsored by the St. Thomas More Catholic Community.

December 7-9 I’ll be back at Christ the King Retreat House, giving a weekend Advent retreat.  (Registration information here.)

And locally in the Twin Cities:

October 24  – Evening talk on Week 1 of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, giving a Church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul.

October 30 – Evening of Reflection, “We Dare to Hope”, Benedictine Center at St. Paul Monastery.

November 4 – Adult Faith Formation Talk on the Beatitudes and the Saints, Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis.

November 8 – Women’s Retreat evening, “Recognizing and Respecting the Giftedness of Women”, St. Pascal Baylon Catholic Church, St. Paul.

December 2 – Advent talk at Church of Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis

Last, but not least, Christine Luna Munger and I will again run our monthly Deepening program – this year Deepening Our Experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, on the second Monday of every month, commencing in October.

If you have any questions about any of these, don’t hesitate to contact me!

We Are Creatures of a Higher Order

I’ve long been a fan of Leonard Cohen, and have found myself listening to a lot of his music lately.  I’d be hard put to pick a favorite, but one that sticks in my mind is his If It Be Your Will.

Cohen introduced the song at a life performance in 1985 with these words, words it is good for us to remember in these times:

I don’t know which side everybody’s on any more, and …I don’t really care. There is a moment when we have to transcend the side we’re on and understand that we are creatures of a higher order. It doesn’t mean that I don’t wish you courage in your struggle. There is on both sides of this struggle men of good will. That is important to remember… on both sides of this struggle. Some struggling for freedom, some struggling for safety. In solemn testimony of that unbroken faith which binds a generation one to another, I sing this song: “If it be your will”.

Here is the song: